Leopoldstädter Temple

Leopoldstädter Temple

Der Leopoldstädter Tempel, Tempelgasse 5 – 2nd District Leopoldstadt

Synagogue built in: 1854-58

Earliest record of community: 1810

Last rabbi:Dr. Israel Taglicht

Pogrom Night: Burned down and destroyed

Today: Empty Lot with a monument

Summary: The largest and most attractive synagogue in Vienna was the Leopoldstadt Temple, inaugurated in 1858 on Tempelgasse. It was built because a previous synagogue on Seitenstettengasse had become too small for its growing congregation. Furthermore, the Jewish community’s leaders wanted to make a respectable synagogue available to the many Jews who had migrated to the city, so that new arrivals would not be obliged to open more small prayer rooms. The prayer rooms were thought to have a negative impact on efforts to unify the Jewish community. 

There was, therefore, a significant need for a new, large, centrally-located synagogue. Leopold Föster, an architect who had already designed a synagogue in Pest and a factory in Vienna, also designed the magnificent Tempelgasse building. The synagogue had seating for 2,000 worshippers, and became a symbol of Vienna’s flourishing Jewish community life.

Built in the Classicist style, the synagogue’s large, cubic structure was luxuriously decorated with oriental-style ornaments, paying tribute to the brilliance of the oriental tradition. The richly decorated synagogue, with its impressive size, was built during a period of increasingly liberal attitudes towards Jews, and was a symbol of the growing self-confidence felt by Jews about their contribution to the history of the city. The synagogue’s inauguration, held on June 15, 1858, was welcomed joyfully by non-Jewish neighbors too. Senior politicians and important dignitaries from Vienna’s cultural, social and political spheres attended the ceremony.

In addition to the synagogue, which was free-standing on three sides, there were two smaller, adjoining administration buildings. The southern building contained living quarters for the congregation’s officials and the world-famous library of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien (the Israelite Congregation of Vienna). The chief librarian, Dr. Bernhard Wachstein, composed several important works of Jewish academic literature. The Vienna Beth Hamidrasch (house of study), founded by Adolf Jellinek, was located on the first floor.

The northern adjoining building (address: 3 Tempelgasse) housed an assembly hall, a few apartments and the mikvah (ritual bath). This was also the home of the Israelitisch-theologische Lehranstalt (the Jewish Theological Academy), the Hebrew language and Bible school, the Leopoldstadt Jewish women’s association, and the Brith Hamischmar boy scouts. 

The Leopoldstadt Temple was renovated several times; the first being in 1898, when Wilhelm Stiassny enriched the inner decor by adding plastering. In 1905, the side facing the street and the side facing the courtyard were renovated according to plans drawn up by Oskar Marmoreck. The synagogue was damaged by fire in 1917; the subsequent restoration work was finished only in 1921.

The Leopoldstadt Temple’s first preacher, who also spoke at the synagogue’s inauguration, was Adolf Jellinek: a famous rabbi from Mähren, much sought-after on account of his oratory skills. In 1864 Rabbi Jellinek went to work at the Stadttempel (City Temple). 

The congregation then selected Salomon Sulzer’s son, Julius Sulzer, and Josef Goldstein, to act as cantors. Dr. Moritz Güdemann—originally from Hildesheim and a former student of Samson Raphael Hirsch—became the Leopoldstadt rabbi in 1866. He went on to be Jellinek’s successor at the Stadttempel. 

The much-loved Dr. Adolf Schmiedl was appointed rabbi in 1894. His replacement was Dr. Elieser David, who was also the leader of the Bildungsanstalt für israelitische Religionslehrer an Volks- und Bürgerschulen (Educational Establishment for Israelite Teachers of Religion at Secondary and Civic Schools). 

Dr. Max Grünwald became rabbi in 1913. His sharp-witted sermons were very popular. Rabbi Grünwald also wrote biographies of influential Viennese Jews. 

Dr. Israel Taglicht, from the Ukraine, succeeded Rabbi Grünwald in 1932. After the death of Dr. David Feuchtwangs in 1936, Rabbi Taglicht was called upon to serve as chief rabbi in the Stadttempel. At this time, the Leopoldstadt Temple’s cantor was Leo Funke. He was deported to Auschwitz in October 1944 and was murdered there.

In October 1938, by which time violence against Jews and Jewish establishments was already commonplace, the Leopoldstadt Temple was set on fire. On that occasion it was possible to contain the damage.

At 6 am on the morning of November 10, 1938, the Gestapo took over the Jewish community’s library in the south wing of the synagogue building. A short time later the synagogue’s interior was set on fire, and was vandalized by organized SS units and civilians who had rushed to the scene. The fire brigade could not reach the burning building, because civilians had formed a human chain around it, to prevent any attempt to extinguish the blaze. By 10:02 am the Leopoldstadt Temple had burned to the ground. The ruins of the synagogue were cleared in 1941 and the ground was flattened in 1951.

Today, the site of the former synagogue remains empty. Just four of the building’s original columns, installed by the architect Martin Kohlbauer, serve as reminder of the imposing size of the Leopoldstadt Temple. 

A new synagogue, an assembly room and a mikvah are located in the building at 3 Tempelgasse; the former north wing of the Leopoldstadt Temple.